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How does the Yankees’ COVID situation compare to other teams’ across the league?

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The Yankees have had it rough with COVID in 2021, but they aren’t alone among MLB teams.

MLB: American League at National League Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Despite being one of the first MLB teams to reach the 85-percent vaccination threshold among “Tier 1” employees, COVID continues to plague the Yankees and decimate its roster. As of August 13th, 14 players have combined for 15 stints on the COVID-19 list in 2021 (along with coaches Matt Blake, Reggie Willits and Phil Nevin). Together, the virus and injuries have led to 43 IL stints on the Yankees this season—a record for the franchise.

Regarding COVID, Aaron Boone recently remarked that “it definitely does feel like we’ve been hit a little harder (than other teams).” So are COVID outbreaks affecting the Yankees to a greater degree, or are they more widespread than those impacting other teams around the league?

I decided to examine reporting and publicly available information on other MLB teams to get a better idea of whether the Yankees’ COVID situation is uniquely bad. Here is how the Yankees’ case count and COVID-related absences compare to those of other MLB teams. As a note, I looked exclusively at rostered MLB players’ cases — not those of all minor leaguers, coaches, or other team personnel. Also, the list below is a tally of total cases, which includes players who’ve gone on the COVID-IL more than once.

MLB Case Counts according to FanGraphs’ RosterResource - Injury Report

* = team has reached >85% vaccination rate

Phillies - 17
Yankees* - 15
Nationals* - 12
Astros* - 10
Brewers* - 10
Red Sox - 10
D-backs* - 8
Mariners - 8
Dodgers* - 7
Marlins* - 7
Padres* - 7
Cubs - 6
Pirates* - 6
Rays* - 6
Rockies* - 5
Twins - 5
Blue Jays* - 4
Giants* - 3
Orioles* - 3
Reds* - 3
White Sox* - 3
Braves* - 2
Cardinals* - 2
Mets - 2
Royals - 2
Tigers* - 2
Angels* - 1
Cleveland* - 1
A’s* - 0
Rangers* - 0

After digging through MLB’s injury reports by team, it became clear that yes, the Yankees have had a greater number of players go on the COVID-IL than most MLB teams have. Some teams, like the Texas Rangers and the Oakland Athletics, have reported zero cases of COVID or positive tests, according to MLB’s recordkeeping.

Still, the Yankees aren’t the worst of the pack by pure numbers, although they are close to it. Phillies players have done 17 stints on the COVID-IL during the 2021 season, topping the Yankees’ 15, and that doesn’t even include any of the many minor leaguers affected by the two-week shutdown at their Clearwater complex. The Nationals also aren’t far below the Yanks — Washington players have had a dozen COVID-IL absences in the 2021 season so far.

It’s equally fair to note the difference in the quality of players hitting the IL between the Yankees and Phillies, though. Per Baseball Reference, just two of the 17 Phillies to hit the COVID-IL has been worth at 1.0 WAR: pitcher Aaron Nola and catcher J.T. Realmuto. While Nola missed a little over a week, Realmuto was only out one day. In comparison, of the Yankees’ 15 players to go on the shelf, seven have hit that 1.0-WAR level for them in 2021: Aaron Judge, Gary Sánchez, Gio Urshela, Gerrit Cole, Jordan Montgomery, Jonathan Loaisiga, and Nestor Cortes Jr.

There doesn’t seem to be an obvious correlation between a team’s tally of COVID-19 cases and whether that team has reached an 85-percent vaccination rate among coaches and players. More research is needed to evaluate that, as a team’s total number of COVID cases doesn’t factor the severity and symptomatic presentation of those cases. One team could have 10 asymptomatic “breakthrough” COVID cases, and another might have a situation with just three cases, but one where all three players felt very sick during their time off. Personal accounts like Yankees coach Phil Nevin’s of course speak to the credit of the vaccine in fighting off the risk of serious illness, which is the main priority of vaccination, as its importance goes beyond the diamond.

It remains to be seen whether the Yankees will make any genuine efforts to curb the spread (i.e. enforcing protocols, mask wearing etc.), or if the team will roll the dice and cobble together a subpar solution with every new positive test. The Yankees can’t afford to lose so many guys if they want to make it to the postseason.